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By Father Donald P. Malin
Special to The PREVIEW
I look back on my childhood years with mixed emotions when it comes to the holidays. For the most part we had a great time with all the company. But there was all that preparation that created stress and chaos. Worst of all was cleaning my “messy” room, just to impress our guests. I hated cleaning my room. I remember Mom setting timers, standing at the door, doing what seemed to me at the time to be checking up on me every minute.
I know now that there are some people in this world who actually like cleaning and organizing, and that they get great joy from doing it. I am certainly not one of them. There are even men or women who look for that in a mate in order to keep things clean and organized in their homes. I rejoice when I meet someone like that in my parish assignments because I know that things will run much smoother when I can work in an orderly environment.
In the liturgical churches of Christianity there is a season called Advent, the season of preparing and getting ready for company, the Infant Jesus. What we are getting ready for is the same and can be different depending on the church. But it all has to do with the coming of the Messiah. The focus may be on the end times, or on Christmas, but preparation is still what it’s all about. Getting ready for Catholics usually involves looking at our lives and searching for ways to be more “presentable” to the King of Kings. We readily acknowledge that we aren’t the best specimens of Christianity, and that because of our sinful acts after our baptism, some things need to be put back into order. We believe that we need to apologize (confess) to God, acknowledging our failures and asking pardon and reconciliation for our contributions to the sufferings of Christ on the Cross 2,000-plus years ago. It is our love for Jesus that motivates us to make frequent confession because we continue to persist in our fallen habits of violating the command of Jesus to be charitable to one another, care for the poor, and to honor Christ in everyone we meet.
To be fair, I must add that many Catholics have fallen out of the habit of frequent confession for much the same reason that I didn’t like cleaning my “messy” room for company. It’s too much work and it keeps me from doing what I want to do. The work of accepting the mess we have made of our relationship with God means that we have to accept that we aren’t as good as we think we are. We don’t like to think of ourselves as sinners or evildoers. We often don’t want to put in all that effort because we are too busy, too ashamed of our failures, or simply because we would rather have fun than have to work.
Other churches have their own perspectives on this mystery of sin after baptism, or of sinning after accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. One comment from Karl Jung, a famous psychologist, on this reality was that he didn’t have many Catholic patients because they had confession. Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters have a method more akin to some of the Eastern Churches for slight failures: of “going in prayer to the Savior” and acknowledging their failures. In the Eastern Church tradition only the most grievous of sins are confessed to the Bishop. In most Protestant churches all of the failures are between the sinner and God, with no requirement to confess to one’s pastor or church leader. All that needs to be confessed is that one is a sinner and in need of redemption and re-dedication.
With Dec. 21 just around the corner, there is a lot of hype regarding the supposed end of the world prophecies of the Mayan Calendar. It seems that a consideration of one’s mortality, combined with the traditional Advent themes of the end times and the judgment of the living and the dead is warranted at this time.
The Catholic Church, though having a clear teaching of these issues, does not subscribe to any particular end-time scenario as is found in the popularized novels regarding what is called “The Rapture.” We have gone through an immanent expectation scare at least twice in Western church history. Both these experiences proved to be unfounded in time but confirmed in doctrine. The first one was during the life of Saint Paul and is enshrined in his letter to the Thessalonians. The second occurred at the turn of the first millennium. Beginning in about the year 950, Cathedrals under construction across Europe saw a stop in their construction because the people and their bishops thought that the 1,000-year reign of Christ was ending. They figured that they wouldn’t complete the cathedrals by the time He returned for Judgment Day, so why bother working anymore? Since then, we have taken the position that everyone will experience the Second Coming either at death or at the end of time. We Catholics leave schedules and timelines up to God. After all, it was Jesus who said: “Only the Father knows the day and the hour,” while also saying “Be alert to the signs of the times.”
Recently someone asked me recently if I expected the 21st of December to be the last day or “the Day of God.” My answer continues to be the same: If it is, great! And if it isn’t, great! Either way, I am ready. So this Advent, lets all clean up our spiritual house with a good examination of conscience and a confession of sins according the tradition of our faith so that we are ready for company; for the King of Kings to come yet again at the celebration of His Nativity. Or even before, if he so chooses.